Thursday, October 6, 2011

Foraging for Mushrooms with Farmer Brian

I know that urban foraging and guerilla gardening have become trendy with the big city folk lately.  (I love the idea, by the way).  That being true, it's not exactly what I would call a trend in rural Illinois-it's more like what people have always done.  Among other things, farm families here have certain spots that they hunt for mushrooms, berries, wild asparagus, and watercress.

A very long time ago, a neighboring farmer's wife taught Seth's grandma how to forage wild mushrooms.  She taught her son, Farmer Brian, my favorite father-in-law.  And last week, Brian took me out to show me some of the family's traditional mushroom spots.  I don't think I'll be comfortable searching on my own anytime soon, but it was fun.  And delicious.

(Note: You're all smart enough to realize that it is dangerous to eat random mushrooms you find without knowing what kind they are first, right?  I highly suggest you take someone who knows what they are doing with you-many edible kinds of mushrooms look incredibly similar to the kind that will kill you.  This is definitely not a how-to post.  Lecture over.)

So here are one of the mushrooms that you can eat, growing in their favorite spot underneath a tree.  There was some debate over the type of tree and whether or not the tree should be dead or alive, but we found them under all kinds of trees, both alive and dead, so there doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule.  This is called a stump mushroom, or more specifically, a Clustered Brown Honey Mushroom.

Because the mushrooms grow up through the dirt and grass, you can expect them to be both dirty and grassy (surprise!).  Cut their stems down low to the ground.  Both the caps and the stems are edible.  Avoid any mushrooms that are mushy and smell rotten, obviously.  They should be firm and dry.

Farmer Brian find success in a shady spot...

This is another type of edible mushroom, Hen of the Woods, or in local vernacular, Coutlage Mushrooms.  (Google has no record of the name Coutlage Mushroom, but they do come up under Hen of the Woods).

This is what the bottom looks like-no real stems.

It was a gorgeous time of day for hunting:

This is another mushroom we found nearby.  It looks very similar to the one above, but it is NOT edible.  That we know of.  So we left it.  (Well, one of us wanted to try it anyway, but the other said no thanks, I don't want to die.  Guess who was who).

There are even mushrooms growing inside tree trunks here.  Also not edible, friends.

Not only did I get to learn about hunting for mushrooms, I got to do it with this view:

Thanks to Mama Jo coming over to stay with my kids, it felt a lot like a one hour vacation.  I'm serious.

Here's a closer shot of the Honey Mushrooms at home in a bowl, getting ready to be cleaned.

How to Cook Wild Mushrooms

This is my father-in-law's method, and it was perfect:

Take them home and wash them well under running water, cutting out any soft spots.  (You will be able to tell if they are past their prime because they will feel slimy and smell just like regular button mushrooms do when they are bad).  Cut them into large pieces (see below) and put them into a large skillet with a good amount of butter (maybe 4T).

The wine is for you, of course, to improve your cooking experience.  And it will.

Cook them down on medium-high until they release their juices, like this:

Keep cooking until the pan is mostly dry again.  Salt and pepper.

And voila:

These are gorgeous, no?  Farmer Brian is a good cook.

We served ours with garlic toast and blue cheese, and they were extraordinary.  But the options here are endless.  We decided that they would be great with any kind of pasta, in an omelet (Brian texted me a video of his breakfast this morning, and it was beautiful), with steaks...  (And yes, red wine.  Because wine helps you cook better.  And it makes everything taste even better).

There are tons of books out there on beginning mushroom hunting, but I still suggest finding an expert for your first time.

Have a fun (and safe!) time hunting near you!  Report back if you find anything great!

On a technical note, my pictures are looking too dark when I preview the posts, but look perfect in Picasa.  How are they looking on your monitor?


  1. I like this post :)  I also like that you not only serve the 'shrooms with wine, but you captured the glass of wine in the cooking-in-progress picture!

  2. Shannon@ChickensinMyKitchenOctober 29, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    Of course!  It's not a mushroom cooking party without a little wine!  Plus, the alcohol will probably help kill any dangerous bacteria on the mushrooms.  Win-win.